It seems silly to compare 2023’s animated films given the broad array of genre-busting excellence the year offered. Of course, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse shamed nearly every MCU multiverse film. It gave audiences nearly every variation of Spider-Man from comics, television, and film while anchoring the awe-inspiring animation in an incredibly emotional story full of stakes. Super Mario Bros. may not have allured all critics, but it gave audiences exactly what they wanted from the first animated adaptation of the beloved video game. Netflix’s Nimona blended gorgeous animation with a story set in a Middle Ages-inspired sci-fi fantasy packed with gender fluid characters. In some circles, Disney / Pixar’s Elemental dazzled with its unparalleled visuals and state-of-the-art animation in an highly emotional and inclusive story that explores the immigrant experience.
And then there’s Trolls Band Together.
Granted, the Trolls series of films focused squarely on highly relatable comedy with an addictive music score. None of them reached for genre-redefining animation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Audiences clearly loved the Trolls films, and there’s something to be said for their Glee-level musical mashups. Trolls Band Together follows squarely in that trajectory. It’s colorful, breezy, and full of catchy tunes. And that’s all it is.
The film kicks off with a backstory around Baby Branch (who would grow up to be Justin Timberlake’s Branch) and his abandonment by his boy band BroZone. Later, wannabe superstars Velvet and Veneer (Amy Schumer and Andrew Rannells) kidnap one of Branch’s brothers to harness the trolls musical essence to hide their own lack of talent. Branch and Poppy (Anna Kendrick) reunite BroZone to rescue their captured brother. Along the way, they find Poppy’s long-lost sister Viva (Camila Cabello) whose past trauma has made her a recluse afraid of the bigger world.
Tolls Band Together offers a simple story that’s well told with a nice message about family and togetherness. The animation is colorful but in ways that are fully expected, save one extraordinarily inventive animated sequence that made me wish for something that pushed a little harder. The jokes, the many jokes, mostly fly by with a chuckle here and there. In fact, other films could benefit from Trolls rapid array of jokes. Disney, in particular, seems to have forgotten that animated films don’t always have to appeal strictly to adults with their emotionally resonant stories. Remember Tangled? Remember that was funny? Even Frozen had Olaf, but more on Disney later.
This film, on the other hand, features nearly wall-to-wall songs, often mashups of other classics from the last few decades. I was a little surprised, though, given the boy band-focused plot we don’t exactly get a huge amount of classic boy band songs. Instead, there are a new array of 90s-pop influenced songs that, to my older ear, don’t feel exactly as good as what I grew up on. The big new song — “Better Place” performed by NSYNC and written by Justin Timberlake, Karl Schuster, and Amy Allen — doesn’t deliver on the promise of bringing NSYNC back together. It’s a repetitive tune that won’t exactly endear NSYNC to a newer, younger generation.
Ultimately, the kids in my audience (and my 15-year-old daughter raised on Trolls) seemed to have a great time, which is what matters most here. But for those looking for a little something deeper, meatier to chew on should probably look elsewhere. Trolls Band Together isn’t a bad film by any means. It’s just not one even attempts to bridge the gap between adult-focused animation and kid zone material.
But the songs are often extremely fun. There’s always that.
Trolls Band Together is now playing in theaters nationwide.